Pay Dirt

I Just Came Into a Huge Sum of Money—but I Like My Life as a Dishwasher

I have few middle-class aspirations.

Someone at a sink washing dishes.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Nattakorn Maneerat/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

Pay Dirt is Slate’s money advice column. Have a question? Send it to Athena and Elizabeth here(It’s anonymous!)

Dear Pay Dirt,

I’m about to come into some money and all I feel is terror. My mother died when I was 18 and I am the beneficiary of her life insurance policy of around $150,000, to be held in trust until I reach 30. Now I am 29 and have no idea what to do with this nest egg.

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My mother raised me under very modest means. I feel a lot of guilt around this money coming from her untimely passing, and also because I have few middle-class aspirations—I work as a dishwasher and artist now, and I like my life. I’ve thought about buying a house with this money, but I am anxious about how to maintain whatever property would be able to afford. I know very little about investing and I am hesitant to do so because of my leftist political views. What the hell do I do?

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—Upwardly Noble

Dear Upwardly Noble,

Listen, even if you didn’t have leftist political views, now is a scary time to do anything financially, let alone have a considerable amount of money dropped in your lap. As a fellow liberal, I say in good faith it’s not financially savvy to keep $150,000 under your mattress. If you’re like my family, it also wouldn’t be financially savvy to keep it in a cookie tin.  You don’t need to have large middle-class aspirations to find a way to make this money add to your comfort.

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For your first step, I recommend you make an appointment with a fee-based certified financial planner, better known as a CFP. For some, $150,000 isn’t a huge amount of assets and shouldn’t qualify for a visit to a CFP because they could just manage money on their own. But since you know very little about investing, have specific goals, and want to continue in your career, I recommend you talk to a professional. While most CFPS are commission-based and make money off of financial products they sell you, fee-based advisors don’t. They charge a set, or hourly, fee for their services and can recommend financial tools that make sense for you. They don’t have skin in the game which allows them to act in your best interest. You can do your research to find the right one for you by conducting a general Google search or checking out The National Association of Personal Financial Advisors.

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I get your hesitation in investing. We’re not given a lot of information to feel comfortable in this market and if investing in traditional markets isn’t for you, that’s OK. Buying a home is still a worthy use of the money.

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While you wait for your nest egg to be accessible, take this time to learn more about personal finance in general. While Pay Dirt is a great resource, also check out books such as Get Good With Money by Tiffany Aliche, Broke Millenial by Erin Lowry, or The Automatic Millionaire by David Bach. Take time to research the neighborhood you want to live in and what houses go for in that area. Also, take time to research property taxes and estimated upkeep. You can keep yourself busy so that when the time comes, you’ll feel empowered to take the next step.

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Dear Pay Dirt,

I’m a 30-something guy in middle management in a semi-high-cost coastal area. I grew up poor and did without a whole lot. My parents always did their best but it was what it was. My mother passed in 2016 followed shortly after by my father taking his own life in 2018. From their combined estates I received approximately $100,000 along with a lifetime benefit pension of approximately $400 a month that will continue to increase due to COLA adjustments.

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Financially, I’m in great shape! I make a solid salary, have good benefits, and even put away extra money each month into a supplemental retirement account on top of my pension contributions. I bought my house in 2012 in the trough and refinanced to a 15-year mortgage in 2020 that I pay extra on each month. I pay less on a mortgage than I do in combined car payments, and a lot less than a lot of my peers pay in rent.

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That said, I’m embarrassed at how I’ve used some of this money, and generally at how I’m looking at my finances since my parents passed. I used some of the cash to buy a vacation property along with four friends and it’s been a net benefit (zero regrets on that expenditure). However, I’ve cycled through several vehicles, trading in depending on my whims and what I think would look good parked in the garage. I’ve taken several trips (often in business class) and have more planned. I spend more than I think I should on frivolous expenditures like electronics and eating out; I also gift a lot to friends by way of fun purchases or buying them things I know they need but won’t buy for themselves. While I still have 80% or more of the money my parents left me sitting in savings, I worry that I’ll blink and it’ll be gone.

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Looking at my life, I’m ostensibly happy and in good shape, but I can’t help but shake the worry that I’m somehow overspending and am going to end up back where I was as a kid, just scraping by. Taking time to evaluate my finances, I seem to be doing just fine unless it’s a big expense month, like when I pay for a trip. Am I just fiscally anxious? Is this something that needs professional help, or am I just overreacting to my stability?

—Unstable in Stability

Dear Unstable in Stability,

I’m sorry to hear about your parents, especially your dad. That loss sounds like it would have been hard but you powered through and are living a life that would make them proud. But at the same time, you’re also wondering if you’re living too much, at least financially.

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Growing up poor sucks. A lot of us are raised in less than stellar financial situations and as a result, you may have triggers that activate any financial trauma you have carry. A symptom of financial trauma can be overspending, which is what you feel is going on now. This is something that shopaholics deal with. I myself went through a phase where I preferred to see my money around my home in the form of useless crap, like home décor and beauty products. However, underspending is also a sign of financial trauma. It’s easy to have the urge to think you can lose it all tomorrow. But guess what? You won’t. You have financial safeguards put in place to help weather your storms.You can tell your inner child that it’s okay now.

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If your financial goals like housing, retirement, and savings are all being hit, ENJOY YOUR MONEY. Party it up at the vacation rental. Buy the Benz because you’re going to look cool in a convertible. Money is a tool that’s meant to be enjoyed as much as it is to bring you financial security. If you find yourself dipping too much into the funds, try to cut back for a month or two. Also, read the book Die With Zero by Bill Perkins. This book will help you with the guilt you feel when spending so that you aren’t held back by a life of regret.

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Dear Pay Dirt,

My boyfriend and I have been dating since just before the pandemic. I’m now 65, he’s 68. I’m semi-retired w/ a modest social security payment, a small retirement check, and own a modest condo. He, on the other hand, has a bigger social security payment, but almost NOTHING ELSE. He has barely enough to rent a studio apartment.

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I might add that he has an elderly dad who owns a home that he and a sibling will inherit. My problem: He refuses to get a part-time job although I feel he needs one. (I did not realize his lack of assets until WAY into the relationship.) He can afford almost “no extras” but makes excuses why he cannot (will not) work. What is your take on this?

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—Frustrated

Dear Frustrated,

I hear your anguish but I have a question: Why does he need a part-time job? While you may want him to get a part-time job, he might not see the need for one since his living expenses are covered. Do you routinely have to bail him out or foot the bill? Both of these are definite reasons for him to consider a part-time job. But if he’s doing fine, I would let him pursue his other interests in retirement that aren’t financially focused.

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That doesn’t mean, however, that you can’t have financial boundaries. We often confuse boundaries with ultimatums which isn’t the case. Boundaries are meant to protect you. You can let him know that you are not willing to lend him money in case of an emergency or cover the majority of any financial expenses you may share due to his lack of income. He may then understand what his lack of income is costing him. If you’re already shared these boundaries, quit pressing the issue and just stay firm. If it’s too much of a headache, it may be time to look more into your relationship dynamics to see if this is something you want to deal with long term. Good luck.

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Dear Pay Dirt,

I am in my late 20s and just finished up a PhD, which I began right after college. I don’t have any debt thanks to generous family support for undergrad, but I am used to making grad student wages. In grad school, I didn’t make much progress toward long-term saving goals, although I set a few thousand dollars aside for emergencies. Honestly, I didn’t think that much about saving because I was making so little. Next year, I will make significantly more money as I move into my professional field (think $50,000 instead of $15,000). This is obviously a huge shift that will move me into a new tax bracket and brings a lot of new questions. To start, I want to get better at budgeting and planning for my future. Do you have any recommendations? Are apps like Mint safe? I’d also appreciate any other advice you want to give me!

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—Budgeting Baby

Dear Budgeting Baby,

It’s impressive to save anything on grad school wages so be proud of yourself. Since you’re used to living modestly, you could potentially be more aggressive with your saving rate once your new income kicks in.

The budgeting app Mint is definitely safe. Mint is owned by Intuit, the same financial company that owns Quickbooks, Turbo Tax, and Credit Karma. I can’t guarantee how safe other budgeting apps may be, although there are other good choices out there. But I definitely recommend Mint as a great place to start. Another platform I recommend is Personal Capital. Not all budgeting apps are created equal so anytime you find yourself being drawn to one, make sure you do your research. Find out who owns the app, what they’re doing with your personal information, and if there are any negative reviews pointing out flaws in their system.

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I would also recommend you find a budgeting style that works for you. There are four main ones I recommend: zero-based budgeting, the 50-30-20 budget, cash envelopes, and the pay yourself first method. I myself am a zero-based budget advocate which means in layman’s terms, I give every dollar I bring home a job and try my hardest to leave nothing to chance. Stuff comes up but it’s much easier for me to hit my financial goals when I know a pile of cash is allocated for certain things like groceries instead of just letting myself do whatever I want with it at the moment. I’m excited for all the financial ass you’re about to kick!

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—Athena

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